Page 24 of The Street Lawyer

"How'd you get the list of evictees?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes you do. You put it on my desk."

"You're as crazy as hell," he said, and walked away. I waited for him to stop, but he kept going, past the rows of shelves, past the stacked tiers, past the front desk, and out of the library.

* * *

I had no intention of busting my ass my last three days at the firm, regardless of what I'd led Rudolph to believe. Instead, I covered my desk with antitrust litter, shut the door, stared at the walls, and smiled at all the things I was leaving behind. The pressure was lifting with every breath. No more labor with a time clock wrapped around my throat. No more eighty-hour weeks because my ambitious colleagues might be doing eighty-five. No more brown-nosing those above me. No more nightmares about getting the partnership door slammed in my face.

I called Mordecai and formally accepted the job. He laughed, and joked about finding a way to pay me. I would start Monday, but he wanted me to stop by earlier for a brief orientation. I pictured the interior of the 14th Street Legal Clinic, and wondered which of the empty, cluttered offices I would be assigned. As if it mattered.

By late afternoon, I was spending most of my time accepting grave farewells from friends and colleagues convinced I had truly lost my mind.

I took it well. After all, I was approaching sainthood.

* * *

Meanwhile, my wife was visiting a divorce hater, a female one with the reputation of being a merciless ball-squeezer.

Claire was waiting for me when I arrived home at six, rather early. The kitchen table was covered with notes and computer spreadsheets. A calculator sat ready. She was icy, and well prepared. This time, I walked into the ambush.

"I suggest we get a divorce, on the grounds of unreconcilable differences," she began pleasantly. "We don't fight. We don't point fingers. We admit what we have been unable to say--the marriage is over."

She stopped and waited for me to say something. I couldn't act surprised. Her mind was made up; what good would it do to object? I had to seem as coldblooded as she. "Sure," I said, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. There was an element of relief in finally being honest. But it did bother me that she wanted the divorce more than I did.

To keep the upper hand, she then mentioned her meeting with Jacqueline Hume, her new divorce lawyer, dropping the name as if it were a mortar round, then relaying for my benefit the self-serving opinions her mouthpiece had delivered.

"Why did you hire a lawyer?" I asked, interrupting.

"I want to make sure I'm protected."

"And you think I would take advantage of you?"

"You're a lawyer. I want a lawyer. It's that simple."

"You could've saved a lot of money by not hiring her," I said, trying to be a little contentious. After all, this was a divorce.

"But I feel much better now that I have."

She handed me Exhibit A, a worksheet of our assets and liabilities. Exhibit B was a proposed split of these. Not surprisingly, she intended to get the majority. We had cash of twelve thousand dollars, and she wanted to use half of it to pay off the bank loan on her car. I would get twenty-five hundred of the remainder. No mention of paying off the sixteen thousand owed on my Lexus. She wanted forty thousand of the fifty-one thousand dollars we had in mutual funds. I got to keep my 401K.

"Not exactly an even split," I said.

"It's not going to be equal," she said with all the confidence of one who had just hired a pit bull.

"Why not?"

"Because I'm not the one going through a midlife crisis."

"So it's my fault?"

"We're not assigning fault. We're dividing the assets. For reasons known only to you, you've decided to take a cut in pay of ninety thousand dollars a year. Why should I suffer the consequences? My lawyer is confident she can convince a judge that your actions have wrecked us financially. You want to go crazy, fine. But don't expect me to starve."

"Small chance of that."

"I'm not going to bicker."

"I wouldn't either if I were getting everything." I felt compelled to cause some measure of trouble. We couldn't scream and throw things. We damned sure weren't going to cry. We couldn't make nasty accusations about affairs or chemical addictions. What kind of divorce was this?

A very sterile one. She ignored me and continued down her list of notes, one no doubt prepared by the mouthpiece. "The aparunent lease is up June thirtieth, and I'll stay here until then. That's ten thousand in rent."

"When would you like me to leave?"

"As soon as you'd like."

"Fine." If she wanted me out, I wasn't about to beg to stay. It was an exercise in one-upsmanship. Which side of the table could show more disdain than the other?

I almost said something stupid, like, "You got someone else moving in?" I wanted to rattle her, to watch her do an instant thaw.

Instead, I kept my cool. "I'll be gone by the weekend," I said. She had no response, but she didn't frown.

"Why do you think you're entitled to eighty percent of the mutual funds?" I asked.

"I'm not getting eighty percent. I'll spend ten thousand in rent, another three thousand in utilities, two thousand to pay off our joint credit cards, and we'll owe about six thousand in taxes incurred together. That's a total of twenty-one thousand."

Exhibit C was a thorough list of the personal property, beginning with the den and ending in the empty bedroom. Neither of us would dare fall into a squabble over pots and pans, so the division was quite amicable. "Take what you want," I said several times, especially when addressing items such as towels and bed linens. We traded a few things, doing it with finesse. My position on several assets was driven more by a reluctance to physically move them than by any pride of ownership.

I wanted a television and some dishes. Bachelorhood had been sprung suddenly upon me, and I had trouble contemplating the furnishing of a new place. She, on the other hand, had spent hours living in the future.

But she was fair. We finished the drudgery of Exhibit C, and declared ourselves to be equitably divided. We would sign a separation agreement, wait six months, then go to court together and legally dissolve our union.

Neither of us wanted any postgame chat. I found my overcoat, and went for a long walk through the streets of Georgetown, wondering how life had changed so dramatically.

The erosion of the marriage had been slow, but certain. The change in careers had hit like a bullet. Things were moving much too fast, but I was unable to stop them.

Chapter Fourteen

The sabbatical concept was killed in the executive committee. While no one was supposed to know what that group did in its private meetings, it was reported to me by a very somber Rudolph that a bad precedent could be set. With a firm so large, granting a year's leave to one associate might trigger all sorts of requests from other malcontents.

There would be no safety net. The door would slam when I walked through it.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" he asked, standing before my desk. There were two large storage boxes on the floor next to him. Polly was already packing my junk.

"I'm sure," I said with a smile. "Don't worry about me."

"I tried."

"Thanks, Rudolph." He left, shaking his head. After Claire's blindside the night before, I had not been able to think about the sabbatical. More urgent thoughts cluttered my brain. I was about to be divorced, and single, and homeless myself.